NEW DELHI — Well, that escalated quickly.
India's Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju, who had slammed colleague Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi's telling comment — that those who want to eat beef should go to Pakistan — backtracked on Wednesday and said he was misquoted by the media.
Rijiju earlier had the best possible response to Naqvi's retort: "I eat beef, I’m from Arunachal Pradesh, can somebody stop me? So let us not be touchy about somebody’s practices."
"This is a democratic country. Sometimes, some statements are made which are not palatable," he was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.
Naqvi last week justified the ban on cow slaughter and asked all those who want to eat beef to go to Pakistan. "It is not about loss or profit... it is an issue of faith and belief. It is a sensitive issue for the Hindus," Naqvi said at 'Manthan' conclave organised by TV channel Aaj Tak.
"Those who are dying without eating beef, can go to Pakistan or Arab countries or any other part of world where it is available," he said. "Even Muslims are against it..." he contended.
Rijiju had more to say.
"If a Mizo Christian says that this is the land of Jesus, why should someone have a problem in Punjab or Haryana? We have to honour the sentiments of each place and each location,” he said. But he contended that Naqvi was exercising his freedom of speech.
Yet on Wednesday, he said: "I only said that India is a secular country and food habits cannot be stopped but the Hindu faiths and sentiments must be respected in Hindu majority states in the same way as the other communities have rights in their own dominant states".
On Tuesday, asked during a press conference to celebrate Modi government's first anniversary whether BJP's anti-beef stance wasn't alienating people of the north east, party president Amit Shah chose to be evasive. He brushed aside the query saying he had visited north eastern states and couldn't find any cows there. "I looked widely. Not a single cow was to be found," he said.
Rijiju's retort should serve as a reminder for the BJP that as it expands nationally, casting aside its one-time image of being a "cow-belt party", it needs to find ways to accommodate a diversity of lifestyle choices and preferences. Its coalition government in J&K with Mufti Sayeed's PDP shows that it is perfectly capable of doing it. All it now needs is a mindset and statements that is attuned to this political reality.
The party could just listen to its own young minister, Rijiju:
"This country is a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-communal country. We must respect each other’s practices. There cannot be any force on anybody about your practices, your faith. So if anybody makes a statement which is forcing or imposing your belief, your faith, your practices on another community, another believer, it is not good.”